A group of small farmers from Kwa Ndaba in KwaZulu Natal travelled to Pretoria to rate the seven bio-based technologies (BBTs) in the DIVAGRI project that are on trial at the Agricultural Research Council’s Roodeplaat campus.

This follows the principles of participatory research and development being vital for the success of the DIVAGRI research project.  Because these farmers  depend on agricultural production for their livelihoods, it is important that they consider all risks involved when introducing new technologies into their environments.

The farmers spent 2.5 hours engaging with the BBTs and the ARC team who had set them up at Roodeplaat. They were then asked to do a simple scoring to evaluate how they perceive the BBT’s in terms of potential applicability in Kwa Ndaba. The farmers’ average scoring of the BBT’s, on a scale from 1-10 where 1 is not practical and 10 is exceedingly practical, is revealing:

Average scoring of technologies:

Technology Farmers’ score Added two scientists’ score
SLECI/intercropping combined 8.6 8.4
Biorefinery 6.3 6.6
Wetland 4.7 5.3
Biochar 3.9* cost concerns mainly 4.9
Biogas 3.9 4
Desalination Glass House 3.3 3


The Self-regulating, Low Energy, Clay-based Irrigation (SLECI)  and intercropping combined received the highest score in terms of applicability in Kwa Ndaba. They agreed to test a combination of litchi fruit trees, as well as Moringa trees, in combination with annual legumes and grain crops – using a combination of SLECI and the standard practice  of flood irrigation in Kwa Ndaba.

The farmers said that while water was not a limiting factor at Kwa Ndaba in most instances, there were periods of potential water stress. In addition, the cost factor of fuel for the water pump was sometimes prohibitive. Simultaneously, the local irrigation practice (flood irrigation in furrows) was seen as an inefficient process.

The two biorefinery options piloted, oyster mushrooms and black soldier flies, were next in line in terms of potential applicability. While sterilisation practices in the case of the mushrooms were flagged as an important issue, mushrooms were still perceived to be practical for food security (protein source) purposes because of the quantities of crop residues available at Kwa Ndaba. The black soldier flies were also seen to have potential in terms of poultry food and as a bait for fishing.

Whilst the farmers were quite impressed by the kiln and its ability to heat 30L of water in quick time, whilst producing a kilogram or two of biochar within an hour, they were not impressed by the cost of the piloted kiln and argued that it was too expense for one family at R30 000 or €‎4550. However, apart from the cost limitation, the technology was viewed positively, considering its multiple uses and associated output. The ARC team said they would investigate an alternative, more cost-effective kiln.

Another surprise was that farmers were quite impressed with the constructed wetland concept, although the applicability in their situation was limited. Running water was not common in KwaNdaba and a consistent source of grey water would be difficult to find. Most of the farmers still collected and stored water in 20L containers for household use. This technology would, however, be investigated, likely at the local kindergarten, as a possible source of water, whilst gravitational flow instead of pumping would have to be a given.

Unfortunately, the biogas structure at Roodeplaat was not yet operational, which made it difficult to demonstrate effectively. However, because of the significant structure required, and the need to have sufficient waste available, Kwa Ndaba might not be suitable for this technology, the farmers concluded.

The perception among farmers was that the desalination glass house research work would also not be very practical at Kwa Ndaba, mainly because of the lack of saline water and the relative abundance of water in the area.

It was agreed that all seven technologies would to be demonstrated at Kwa Ndaba, but in practice  1 or 2 might in time prove not to be realistic.